Long-neglected and discriminated by governments and societies across Latin America, Afro-Latino communities have slowly begun to gain visibility in cinema. Films like Venezuela’s Pelo Malo, Puerto Rico’s Ángelica, Colombia’s La Playa D.C., or the Dominican Republic’s Sand Dollars, represent important vehicles towards starting the overdue conversation about race in the region.
In Mexico, where classism is deeply tied to racism Afro-Mexicans represent one percent of the total population, but they are not recognized as an official ethnic group. Addressing the unjust treatment towards this segment of the citizenry, director Jorge Pérez Solano (who previously directed La tirisia), has just released La Negrada – hailed as the first Mexican fiction movie portraying the country’s black population.
Shot entirely in small towns throughout Oaxaca’s Costa Chica, La Negrada employed local non-professional actors to tell the story of two women, Juana and Magdalena, romantically involved with the same man, Neri.
The official trailer begins with a Mexican immigration official asking one of the story’s protagonists about her nationality, solely based on her skin color. “You are not Mexican right? Where are you from negra?” he tells her. A title card reminds us, “There are Mexicans that nobody sees.” What ensues is a series of ethereal vignettes by the ocean emphasizing the paradisiacal beaches and the Afro-Mexicans’ daily lives spent fishing and processing what they caught.
Luminous underwater sequences and scenic sunsets are paired with the off-center framing of subjects in multiple shots, which are in turn accentuated by softened natural light. Rather than summarizing the plot, the clip is more concerned with flaunting its visual attributes. Not for nothing did it win the cinematography award at the 2018 Guadalajara International Film Festival. Based on this preview, La Negrada also flirts with the documentary genre, as we occasionally see characters directly address the camera.
Sonically, the trailer adds a thematic bonus with the song “El Zanate” by Bertín y Su Condesa. Its title refers to the black-feathered Mexican grackle, and the lyrics have the bird confess he is hated because of the color of his plumage. Such a fitting track speaks volumes about the underlying alienation Afro-Mexicans feel in their own homeland.
The release of the film in Mexico has not come without controversy. Several organizations – such as Mexico Negro, Huella Negra, and Afrodescendencias en Mexico – put out a statement denouncing the director’s use of the word “savage” in an interview with a national newspaper to describe Afro-Mexicans. They also contend that the drama peddles stereotypes about blacks. One can only hope their concerns will be heard.